Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How does Pre-sales work?

Clients or companies that need software services and project implementations generally call for proposals from a pool of preferred vendors. Although it is hard to generalize on the nature of or the contents of such proposals, most documents follow a structured framework: detailing the project, asking vendors for suggestions or solutions or proposals along with cost estimates regarding the work to be done. RFP responses would generally involve two components: 

  • The technical solution: A typical response to an RFP or proposal will include a substantial technical component. People responding to RFPs at service firms generally follow a well-defined operating process involving plugging the response documents with common templates about the company and its capabilities. The customization process kicks in when it comes to project and client specific responses; and here is where someone with a technical background is really valuable. Technical subject matter experts are needed to analyze the client's problem, think through a framework to create a solution based upon their knowledge and experience. Such skills can be especially useful while preparing a proof of concept or technical demo. The focus areas include:
    • Demonstrate to the client that you Get their problem and showcase how you will approach the solution. During Pre-sales phase, technical solutions could include a mockup of the end-state technical view, reference architecture (a.ka. Marchitecture), approach or framework to solve the client's specific problem.
    • Demonstrating organizational capabilities. Organizations typically demonstrate their capabilities by referencing past successes (Case studies, whitepapers etc), and may also develop proof-of-concept (POC), demonstrations or mockups.
  • Commercials and administrative aspects: Commercial and administrative aspects include a whole gamut of activities involved in responding to clients with specific reference to the processes involved in executing the engagement / project. Cost is definitely a key criteria organizations use while evaluating a proposal though depending on the nature of problem being sourced, the credentials of the vendor and the solution may take a higher priority. The administrative aspects include a high-level estimate of the effort involved in terms of duration (time), effort (people/resources) and additional resources including infrastructure etc required to successfully provide the required solution. Estimating the level-of-work involved may include formal estimation techniques based on expertise from past projects or could be a very heuristic process, especially for newer technologies without adequate benchmarks. The focus areas may include:
  • Cost, budget and financials: What is the total cost to the client, how often will they be invoiced and the mode of payment etc? This may include defining the billing model: Time and Material (T&M), Fixed Price (FP) or other blended models.
  • Staffing plan, resource management: Responses to proposals typically include staffing plans (how many people, skills they bring to the table, roles etc) and may also include other resources needed including specific systems, hardware, software etc.
  • Credentials, testimonials and references from past clients. There are instances where clients may ask for specific testimonials from existing/past clients of service firms. Staff engaged in pre-sales activities should be able to arrange for such references.

Question: I have been asked to support pre-sales activities in my firm. Is this a good move for me?

The answer would be highly subjective and depend on various factors. Among the key factors to be reflecting include:

  • Your career aspirations: Do you wish to learn more about the business of software services? Do you see yourself managing your business? If the answer is Yes, a stint in pre-sales support, supporting sales activities and getting an understanding of how/what 'sells' in the marketplace will be an invaluable learning experience
  • The Phase/Stage of your career: A stint in Pre-sales roles may be especially valuable for those who have spent at least a few years doing hands-on work Let's assume you wish to remain a Techie, say wish to move towards being an Architect or Consultant. Even in such a case, exposure to your business (the business of software services) is a skill that is certainly going to help.

Bottomline: Plan and reflect on your specific takeaway from a stint in Pre Sales. You should essentially be asking: what is my takeaway from my stint Pre Sales activities

Question: I am a new management graduate and don't have any background in software development. Can I try my hand at Pre-Sales jobs?

Answer: This is a question I get asked very often. Fact is that organizations don't always advertise presales jobs directly since 'pre sales support' may be associated with other job functions too (however, some do advertise, as the example here shows). As this advertisement illustrates, the firm is looking for those with an engineering degree to support pre sales.

In other instances, those from a management background, say with an MBA or even Tech-Writers may be able to find a niche in pre-sales role in software service firms without being expected to get too technical.

Bottomline: You should keep in mind that organizations may or may not always advertise 'pre sales' as a job title, but while reading job adverts you may get a feel for the fact that the role predominantly involves pre-sales activities. Position yourself accordingly.

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